Disturbing the Dead

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The original vessel under construction in Belfast. From The Mariners’ Museum collection.

Hello readers and welcome back to the Library blog. For those of you who are unaware, Australian billionaire Clive Palmer has just released construction plans for the proposed cruise liner Titanic II. No, I did not mistype that – this man seriously wants to rebuild the Titanic. According to the proposed plans, the Titanic II would be made as close to the original specifications as possible. However, a new deck will be added for lifeboats, the huge steam engines would be replaced by much smaller diesel engines, and the underwater hull would be made slightly more aerodynamic.

The prospect of a replica Titanic sailing the waves is perhaps both a sentimental and a controversial notion to many people. While it is no doubt touching that the people who perished on the first Titanic could be honored and remembered by the creation of a second one, one must consider the endurance and implications of the Titanic’s legacy. The sinking of the “unsinkable” Titanic on her maiden voyage is a story that has pervaded the past century, symbolizing the folly of humanity’s hubris in the face of the forces of nature. It is a lesson meant to be so powerful that it bears no repetition: for that reason, every child in America grows up learning its story. By building a second Titanic, are we not throwing away the lessons we learned? Are we not trivializing the importance of the deaths suffered in 1912? Some say that those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. Perhaps the Titanic II will not literally sink, if it is ever made. But remaking that ship will reject the lessons we were supposed to learn, and trivialize the impact made by all those who died.   Read more

A Midwesterner learns about sailing ships

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The past few weeks have conspired to finally make me learn the difference between a sail and a sheet.

I can hear many of you, dear readers, chuckling to yourselves right now, and I honestly don’t blame you.  I have been a maritime librarian for several years and still had no firm grasp on the workings of a sailing ship.  No understanding of it beyond the barest essentials needed to not make a fool of myself.  I have always exculpated myself by pointing to my Ohio roots (I am reminded of the donation the Library received yesterday from a New Mexico public library.  They gave us several maritime-related books, saying in their letter that there wasn’t much interest in them in the high desert).  I also blamed my work on the age of steam, though as I have written in these pages, I know little to nothing about steam-engines either.   Read more

Seeing Monitor’s Steam Engine

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Last week I took a few minutes to visit the Conservation wet lab to visit Monitor‘s main engine, the first time I had seen it with the tank drained.

Before I say anything about this experience, I ought to say that I love steam engines, have loved them ever since I was a child.  Like so much nineteenth century technology, the steam engine seemed to me  imaginative, almost pre-scientific (though based on sound science).  I don’t know a thing about steam engines, honestly, but I love them because I find them beautiful.  Their movements are graceful, their lines and curves are elegant.  Their great exposed connecting rods, intricate gearing, the eliptical shapes of the eccentrics, have something of the animate about them.  In the extravagence of their movement, they seem improbable as machines, so unlike the completely restrained electrical motor.  One can be devoted to them easily.   Read more